What’s on TV tonight?

What’s on TV tonight?

That is  a million dollar question. Unless if you are extremely opinionated on what you like to watch!

The internet and other rapidly evolving technologies have drastically lowered the barriers of content creation and distribution. This has resulted in an explosion of content for consumption. Content creators like Studios now compete with likes of Netflix and niche artists on YouTube channels. Users have a plethora of content to choose from & a variety of platforms to watch it on.

Content Value Chain

Trying to answer, “What’s on TV now?” has become increasingly difficult. Breaking down the content journey into a value chain can look something like below

The Content Value Chain

Industry players attempt to simplify content discovery, hoping to drive user adoption. Search & Recommendations is the holy-grail of content discovery. But, in the content value chain, every participant is active in this dpace. How can they drive user adoption? Are industry players willing to go beyond walled-gardens? Is any one of them better positioned than others to create enough value for the user, while capturing enough value for all participants of the value chain?

What is the goal of having a content recommendation system? Depending on where one sits in this chain, it could either be to make money or could be to boast of incredible user experience indirectly creating brand affinity.

Exploring further, I attempt to outline the players involved in the content transformation phase, figure out what their incentives are to build/buy a recommender system and how do such propositions impact their business model? Let’s start from the right extreme – the demand side. When it comes to content consumption, the end user is the king here.

The end user (Content Consumption)

A study from Digitalsmiths (Survey demographics covers North America) shows increasing difficulty in finding content that users really ‘want to watch’ (see adjoining figure here)

Complexity with content discovery
Is it easy to discovery content?

The number of programs users can find is extremely high. To make a decision on what they should watch is tedious.

An excerpt from an article states, “For pay TV operators, the challenge could be as simple as people just can’t find what they’re looking for. According to Digitalsmiths, 71% say they get frustrated because they can’t find something for the family to watch. Nearly half of pay TV customers don’t use search, saying it takes too long (20%) and is just too difficult to find (18%.)”

Users have no time to browse through the content clutter. Yet another barrier is the user experience. Depending on the type of device the user consumes video content, he expects a different kind of interaction paradigm – each suited for that device type.  (Reminds me of the famous Ted Talk from Barry Schwartz – The Paradox of Choice). So the consumer is thinking either of watching something that is popular among the masses (hence in the first handful of installed channels) or just watches a show based on word-of-mouth referral. That he has a certain taste & preference has little bearing on his viewing habits.

Who should empower this user? Is the content creator, the content aggregator or the TV device maker best placed to fulfil all objectives and deliver the punch?

More to follow, in the next post…

Does Flipkart need to move step in step with Amazon?

Flipkart, the leading Indian eCommerce company recently launched its own brand of Android Tablet devices, starting with a Digiflip Pro XT712. Flipkart claims that this step will take it closer to building an eCommerce eco-system. But, with the low price positioning of this device in an already crowded tablet & smartphone market – does this me-too strategy have a strong case?

(Near) Clones from different times, in different places

Flipkart is often referred to as being the Amazon of India. Flipkart, like Amazon started by selling books online and then expanded into other product categories. There was then a step towards selling eBooks via the eCommerce website. It then altered the business model to an eCommerce Marketplace model. Despite these similarities, does the move into tablets space seem right?

Indian Smartphone & Tablet Industry?

Questions come up immediately – Is this industry attractive enough? Is there enough incentive to compete here and try to achieve positive network effects? The Smartphone and tablet industry in India is an extremely crowded industry with over 60+ players in the space. A cluttered marketplace

Strong price competition and product commoditization are strong characteristics of this ma
. The leading brands in India Samsung, Micromax & Karbonn take up 60% of the Smartphone space while the rest is extremely fragmented. Add to this the recent announcements at Google I/O 2014. The AndroidOne initiative will give further impetus to low-cost device makers making it hard for consumer to differentiate one tablet/smartphone from the other. And amidst all these dynamics, ENTER FLIPKART at the lower end of the price range.

A look from Amazon’s perspective

Amazon has a strong  experience with consumer electronics devices. The Kindle, when launched was the first of its kind. It was a new category of device a.k.a the e-reader with the much talked about e-Ink. It was a niche device that could render the Amazon eBook format and could leverage cloud delivery infrastructure downloading books via WiFi and WhisperNet.

The new Smartphone,  Fire Phone is positioned as a high-end niche device, competing not with the zillion other Android phone makers, but rather a few premium Smartphone makers in the US market – which is a completely different ballgame compared to the emerging markets.

The value proposition of Amazon’s Fire Phone is also well-defined and centered around Amazon services. Amazon Prime has substantial uptake in the US market. Bundling this subscription allows Amazon to further expand its user base. Trying to bump up transactions through the use of Amazon-specific apps & features is a clear intent. How well that strategy pans out or how drastic that step could be is a debate out of this scope.

For Flipkart, its not the same arena?

In fact it is not even the same game anymore. While this appears as a me-too response to the Amazon Fire Phone launch, I believe that achieving competitive parity can be useful but need not always be meaningful.

Digiflip, Flipkart’s inhouse brand, primarily appears to be an ‘electronic accessories’ brand. A Tablet to augment this line up of accessories is like driving in the opposite direction in a one-way to get into the business. In terms of positioning as well, the Digiflip Pro when compared to the Fire Phone is at a relatively different position on the pricing spectrum.

Over 2000 free eBooks are being offered as a goodie with this device, Flipkart also offers the Flipkart First subscription service, but I do not have enough to compare the popularity of this with that of Amazon Prime – I doubt though that similarities exist.

Will this boost online transactions?

It is widely said that e-Commerce & m-Commerce are the next big purchase channels for consumers. Flipkart is now a leading destination for device makers to sell Smartphones. Motorola sold over 1 million handsets through this exclusive-online retail partner in 5 months. Xiaomi is also planning to partner will Flipkart in its entry into the Indian market. Yet another Smartphone partner is in place – Karbonn, with whom Flipkart made exclusivity deals deal for cheap smartphone.

While these partnerships will boost the main line of business, the entry into ‘cheap tablet’ space could send the wrong-signal to these partners. These partners need to trust Flipkart to sell their devices on the website, than to feel threatened by Flipkart’s cheap competitive offerings.

That being said, would it not be more interesting to partner with these Android device makers like Samsung, Motorola, Micromax, Xiaomi, Karbonn and others to preload a Flipkart App on the device? Flipkart might want to extract more value at a lower cost by preloading the App an fulfil its eco-system intent than to start the line-of-business which is outside is core-business.

Leverage firm capabilities to find growth beyond the core

Flipkart has already started experimenting with its core business model by spinning off its logistics arm – eKart. While I see good merit in leveraging core-competencies to grow beyond its core, investing in this new line of business to gain competitive parity raises more questions than it answers.

(Rumored) Samsung Galaxy S5 – Sustaining innovation?

If This blog entry is to be believed, Samsung’s next flagship release – the Galaxy S5 should come with a faster chipset, fingerprint scanner, metal case, super high resolution display, and a higher resolution camera. Is this a case of sustaining innovation trap that large firms should be careful about? Though Samsung is doing its best to maintain the market leadership, watch out for disrupters!

Xolo Q700i – A bad buy or bad luck?

Xolo Q700i

In the previous post, I mentioned that in the hunt for an affordable value-for-money Smartphone, I had settled for a Xolo Q700i. It has been about two months since I have am using it. Now it is time for a review and verdict about the phone in particular and the company in general.

For those who would like one-liners on evaluation metrics, here’s the brief below.

  • Experience with Brand Xolo: Not Happy at all
  • Product Specification: Good. At par (and above) some competing products
  • Product Performance: Could have been way better. Audio & GPS give issues
  • Service Network: Coverage in terms of number of cities is bad
  • Service Experience: Dissatisfied – Xolo Care doesn’t care

Overall verdict: Will look out for other brands before trying a Xolo again!

To start with why did I choose the Xolo Q700i? I had spoken to a couple of friends before I made a purchase decision – to be fair they hadn’t encountered any problem with their handset. The specifications present online are encouraging given the price point – A Smartphone at Rs.10000/- with 1GB RAM, 1.2GHz Quad-Core (albeit a Mediatek), 2GB internal memory, 8MP camera (this wasn’t critical for me) and lastly a USB OTG ( I can connect a USB memory stick directly to the phone!).

Why did my initial excitement with this brand get killed?

I’d say upfront: if you intend to use the GPS Navigation on this rule it out! I also had trouble with an elementary function – the in-call speaker stops working at its will & I guess its a manufacturing defect. These few aspects have done serious damage to my perception of Xolo. Here’s a more detailed description.

  • Audio: This has been a biggest let down. Imagine buying a smartphone that works well and in two weeks the speaker (used for normal phone calls) stops working! Not so smart any more. Though I can still check my email, read about technology developments in the world through the browser BUT when a friend calls me – I can’t hear him on the phone! The engineer in me (and I also worked on mobile handset software in my pre-MBA days) wouldn’t recede. Looking for an Engineering Mode for Xolo, I altered an audio setting in the software which seemed to resolve the problem. But alas, after about three weeks again the problem relapsed. Now here, I must thank my four year old daughter – she accidentally dropped the phone and voila the speaker started working! (And we used to joke about mechanical systems – give it a slap and it starts to work). I believe it is a manufacturing defect – a loose connection within the board causing the speaker to work on and off! Slap it and its on, slap it again and its off!
  • GPS Navigation – Where are the satellites? This is yet another horrendous experience. The receiver on the phone would just not latch on to the GPS satellites. Again, an online research of similar problems seemed to indicate issues with GPS services with MediaTek chipsets! My fault – didn’t do my research well before I bought the handset! All these posts had a variety of suggestions about the possible cause. A few said the antenna connections are not strong enough to do the job well (which would be real bad news for me). Some suggested that GPS configuration settings on the handsets by Disabled by default, hence download (some) EPO setting files and alter a few more config parameters to ease this. Having tried all this, after much pain I could get the phone to latch on the GPS satellites. But imagine driving on a fast and busy Indian road, you’re expecting to take the next turn and bam! the GPS latch is gone – its is again “Searching for GPS”! The use of GPS in India might be questioned, but my experience with GPS on other high-end phones in India (like the iPhone) has been extremely great – so that rules out a problem with those billion dollar satellites up in the heavens. Its my cheap phone that is struggling to stay put! (I could get it to improve after I followed steps here). Posts like these (1 and 2) show how prevalent GPS Navigation problems are on Mediatek chipsets. Why doesn’t the Xolo software take care of these initially?
  • Phone restarts / Software Reset: For some unknown reason, after a few weeks of use (which includes installations of certified software, frequent browsing and email checking) the phone would just restart at almost every touch. I get an alert – touch – reset. Again touch to clear alerts – reset. Launch an App – reset! Finally I did a Factory Reset to see if it is fixed – fortunately yes. But I have had to do this almost three times till now. Imagine with all the data and apps we install on a heavy usage phone – the amount of time is takes and productivity it kills! 

Now, the not-so-dark-side of this purchase.

  • Display: The 4.5 inch bright display is impressive, especially in bright outdoor conditions. The ambient light sensing ability also works well giving the user clarity in the display. The colors are bright and the pixel density is good value for money.
  • UI & Touch Responsiveness: For an Android phone at about Rs.10000 it is quite responsive. I haven’t seen any lag in animations & applications launch instantly. The user-interface is non-cluttered. I had tried the Samsung Galaxy Duos and even the S4 (which is far more powerful), but my first reaction was ‘why is the UI so cluttered’. A bunch of icons spread across the multiple screens along with the alerts wasn’t much to my liking. The Xolo on the other hand is quite clutter-free. Ease of access to the application shortcuts, widgets and menu items is something I value.
  • Smart Features: There are a few useful ‘smart’ features. I know a few people who diligently switch off their Smartphone at night and switch it on in the morning – yes everyone has their reasons. The Q700i has a neat ‘Scheduled Power On-Off’ feature – you set the shutdown and power-on time & days of week, and the phone does the rest. You needn’t worry about switching it on in time. Especially useful when you are in a bus or train journey at night – the roaming network-searches eat up the battery before you reach the destination or if you’ve forgotten to use the airplane mode. The Xolo Power Management app has a few cool features: toggle your data connection at regular intervals of 5, 10, 15 … minutes when the screen is off! This saves some battery life & data consumption otherwise eaten up by the auto-sync options. A ‘Night Mode’ disables mobile-data mode during the set time-window. These are small but well thought features. Add these to the 2400 mAh, it can push up the battery life.
  • CameraHonestly haven’t tried much of this as I am not a major mobile-phone camera fan. But yes it works.

That’s it. All done and dusted. Now, one would say why I didn’t go back to the store to replace the piece? (Unfortunately) I had bought it online from a faraway state – so that is out of the window. 

Then, why didn’t I approach the customer care? Xolo has an interesting app – “Xolo Care” installed on the handset – it has the ability to send the IMEI number by SMS and has pointers to call & email the customer care – they will get back to you! I was impressed at first but am now disillusioned by its presence. I have sent SMSs multiple times but have had no response. The call-center – well like the online reviews speak about Xolo’s customer care(noteworthy ones are this & here as well; you would however find scores of such reviews online) – they basically read out the address of the nearest service center I would have to visit. For reasons of my own, I really do not want to undergo the ordeal of waiting for months and speaking to the same customer-care executive (who’s just doing his job) about a problem he cannot solve and await a possible solution!

For  me, there are three possible solutions. First – give me my money back. Second – give me a new piece with these issues resolved (They should be the ones doing engineering right in the first place and not me spending time on forums to find solutions). Third, spread the word and let the future probable customers know on what to expect!

If Lava International Ltd. Director & Co-founder Mr. Vishal Sehgal and Business Head (Xolo) Mr. Sunil Raina are serious about taking this brand to the next level (even closer to MicroMax), they have to make the product team work harder, make operations team work on service issues better and ensure good-quality end-products out of the assembly line! Word-of-mouth is a powerful tool in the current scheme of things! A cluttered marketplace with similar handsets need more than just a bright display and 8MP of camera. Delivering on promised parameters and a good service proposition will help ensure customer stickiness.

So much for now – maybe I will go back to the better-known brands after all. As I wrap this up, I still wonder was this a bad buy or bad luck?

Smartphone Industry in India – Spoilt for choices

Before I left for France in Jan 2012, the Indian Smartphone market was dominated by Nokia, Samsung, RIM & Sony. As per data (from a report) back in 2011 Nokia was a market leader in the Smartphone industry with ~45% market share, Samsung & RIM (now Blackberry) together at 36%. Apart from this five Indian Smartphone makers including a (then) obscure handset maker – Micromax made up 19% of the shipments.

Fast forward to 2014 – I am in India for a short span and am looking at buying a new Smartphone. While the Samsung Galaxy is pervasive here, the realization dawned that I was spoilt for choices in brands (see stats also for early 2013late 2013) – even those that I never knew existed.

Are their signs that the industry “matured”? Is there no more room for product innovation?

My observation lately has been that not a day has passed when I do not come across a fresh article in the press about – increased Smartphone adoption, rising mobile-internet penetration and changing market dynamics in India. While I wondered about how purchase patterns have changed, I put some thought into the current state of the industry and the possible direction it may take.

The Smartphone Industry in India – Today

  • India has 68 (!) Brands of Smartphone vendors…

…Only 30% of which are global brands (Src: EconomicTimes). In addition to Samsung & Sony, there are a host of players here. Samsung overtook Nokia in overall phone shipments recently but had already gained a dominance in the smartphone space a while back. Now, the tables are turned and domestic Smartphone maker Micromax poses a serious threat to Samsung in India. Apple hasn’t gained much traction due to its premium price point. Others like Lava, Celkon, iBall, Intex (yes these are the Indian players) have been raising the ante. Panasonic, HP & Dell are (re)introducing a vast range of products at competitive prices to get a seat at this table.

  • Free OS platform & cheap chipsets cater to rising demand

Chipset makers Qualcomm, nVidia, Broadcomm are dominant suppliers to the bigger mobile players. Mediatek is a major supplier for budget Smartphone makers (or say tier-II mobile makers). Mobile display makers provide differing yet interesting options like (O)LED, IPS displays. Google’s Android has for now leveled the playing field by opening the OS platform for mobile makers (Any Smartphone maker can customize & use the software for free). A host of ISVs (Independent Software Vendors) also provide a variety of applications for these handsets.

  • Brand agnostic Indian consumer & commoditized Smartphone

The Indian customer looking out for a bargain deal is a tough one to please. Availability of innumerable options has created pricing pressures. Dealers have resorted to selling a Smartphone by the inbuilt specifications rather than by the brand name driven by an onslaught from Asian OEMs. This is quite like the PC-industry where we’d care more about the processor, RAM, hard-disk space et al. In a cluttered product space, the seller talks just about the phone specifications – display, RAM, CPU, Memory etc. (Albeit the WinTel owners enjoyed a large portion of the profit pool, the same isn’t true for the Smartphone industry).

  • eCommerce & social media improved distribution & reach

Distribution channel has seen rapid evolution in the recent years. Increased penetration of Smartphone is fueling the growth of mobile-internet in India and thereby increasing the overall internet-data usage across the spectrum of users. This has led to a flourishing e-Commerce industry which has been expanding (50% growth in 5 years – Src: E&Y) and is set for unprecedented growth (Reach 38M transactions in 2014 at a CAGR of 36% – Src: E&Y). Online retailers are in a race to offer deep discounts to make consumers get the best deal – in purchasing a Smartphone as well. If a phone maker worries about increasing its point-of-sales, online-retailers can compensate the lack of a large distribution network.

Online presence through social media & use of tools like targeted online advertising has improved the returns of advertising campaigns. The marketing team gets greater returns against its advertising spend generating greater brand awareness and increasing topline.

So, where are we headed?

Can the tier-II vendors win over market share?

The rapid pace of innovation in technology industry & ease of imitation has ensured falling prices for existing technologies. Tier-II vendors find it easy to match up (if not exceed) the product specifications to that of the big-boys. But developing consumer confidence will be crucial. Vendors will have to find innovative avenues to serve the customer – be it improved after-sales service network & quality, provide interesting financing offerings & exchange offers (a step already being acted upon by Samsung & Apple in India). Investment in developing a strong service network is essential. There is potential for innovation to achieve economies-of-scale in deploying an efficient & effective after-sales service network. Will multiple tier-II vendors partner to provide joint after-sales? Will a new entrant cater to this need independently?

This has to be complimented with a focus on simplicity in design and usability. Leveraging the open OS platform, tier II vendors have the ability to pre-install several features peculiar to the Indian Smartphone user – which emerge through investment in consumer research.

Other stakeholders in the value-chain, especially the telecom operators are also experimenting with other revenue sources and alternate business models. India presents immense opportunities in areas of education, healthcare & payments. Telcos are investing in these to find more profitable revenue sources. Partnering with these will help tier-II vendors get off the beaten track of price-competition and develop a sustainable brand recall in the broader in Indian consumer’s mindset.

Will big players like Samsung sustain their lead?

Product innovation is critical to maintain brand stickiness. Yet another differentiating factor is ‘Service Innovation’. A robust balance sheet helps the big names leverage geographic reach to deliver strong service. While the internet is a greater leveler in improving distribution, brick-and-mortar stores instill confidence among customers seeking after-sales service. While tier-II vendors focus on pricing for a commoditized product range, the biggies must strongly communicate their ability to ‘serve’!

In conclusion, while I would say the industry has reached that of a mature stage, I believe that service innovation is crucial to avoid receding into a decline phase. Someone will reinvent the Smartphone – again!

Touching once again on the aspect of being spoilt for choices – finally, with a desire to try a local vendor with cheap yet powerful (enough) offering. With some word-of-mouth and a basic research of specifications – I settled for a Xolo Q700i. How did it pan out for me? You’ll know soon. (Update: And here it is!)

Photo credit: Prepayasyougo via photopin cc

Can firms challenge critical mass in multi-sided platform markets?

I came across this nicely written piece about platform markets – “From Netscape to eHarmony: The High Risks and Big Rewards of Platform Markets” on http://strategy-business.com

Technology eco-systems are common in markets with multi-sided business models – For e.g the smartphone app-store connecting developers & phone-users, online-marketplace & storefronts connecting buyers & sellers.

The article introduces the term ‘tipping point’ – an alternate representation of a critical mass of users needed to create positive network effects. An interesting question raised herein is: How can you identify a platform market that is attractive to enter, and under which conditions is it appealing? Defining the granularity of the market & bringing in the right competitive advantage is one route to answering this.

Firms looking to displace dominant incumbents – be it in the smart phone industry, television industry, eCommerce industry or others – must think through the value proposition to switch current users.

Click Here for the original and complete article

Is my SmartPhone NFC enabled?

Two interesting pieces of news from NFCWorld.com

Vodafone to launch NFC mobile wallet across Europe

Mobile network operator Vodafone‘s NFC mobile wallet is going live today in Spain, will be available in Germany in mid-December and expand to the Netherlands, UK and Italy in spring 2014. Vodafone Wallet works with a range of NFC phones as well as with NFC tags that can be used by customers with other smartphones and feature phones.

Click Here to read more.

One in ten consumers say they have an NFC phone

The number of consumers with an NFC phone has doubled since 2012 according to Deloitte‘s third annual Global Mobile Consumer Survey, with 10% of 37,600 consumers surveyed in 20 countries saying they know that they have the technology embedded in their smartphone. 62% say they do not and 28% do not know if their phone has NFC or not.

Click Here to read more

What is interesting is that while Vodafone is rolling out a pan-European to boost the adoption of its NFC based mobile-wallet, 28% of customers (albeit globally) do not know if their phone has NFC?

So where should Vodafone start from? Promote SmartPass – the wallet – alone or also work with Smartphone-making partners to promote NFC?